Our Asset Management & Compliance Consultant, Erin Kelly and the team recently attended the London Build Expo 2022: Building a Safer and Fairer Future for Housing, check out what they had to say about it…
Attending London Build Expo 2022 was a reminder of all the progress made within building safety and social housing in the past six years, but also of the challenges which still lie ahead. Delegates covered the lasting impact of the Grenfell tragedy, the recent devastating failure of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, and the importance of building a future for social housing which reflects the people it serves.
Conferences such as London Build are still having to manage the aftermath of one of the greatest failures in social housing, and the catalyst for an overhaul of building safety regulations nationwide As the Grenfell Tower Inquiry closed earlier this month (Nov, 2022), across the sector we were reminded of the critical role than building safety plays in the protection of lives. Throughout the days’ panels, the legacy of Grenfell was ever-present, with fire safety taking precedence across the industry.
Sector leaders were present at Olympia London to cover the lasting effects of the inquiry, with a panel dedicated to the significance of Fire Safety across housing and construction. As the inquiry draws to a close, the construction industry will play a vital role in the remediation of safety measures UK-wide. Memorably, speakers highlighted the importance of building a long-term legacy for the housing sector, which prioritises a culture of competence above all else. Benjamin Ralph, Head of Fire Safety and Partner at Foster + Partners, highlighted that without a fundamental culture change, legislation and recommendations can be woefully ineffective.
In light of the devastating failure of Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, it is now more important than ever for this culture of competence to take root in the sector. After toddler Awaab Ishak was found to have died from a respiratory condition caused by prolonged exposure to mould, the importance of compliance and compassion across housing has never been clearer. As Joanne Kearsley, coroner at Rochdale Coroner’s Court said; “The tragic death of Awaab will, and should be, a defining moment for the sector.” Although the chief executive of RBH has been removed from his post, it is clear the fault cannot be attributed to one failure and is a reflection of a wider systemic issue. Michael Gove, secretary of state for levelling up, has warned housing providers that this can “never be allowed to happen again”.
Further debate on building safety measures raised concerns surrounding the viability of PEEPS (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans), in addition to active fire protection measures such as alarms and sprinklers. The panel raised the question of whether building safety measures as we understand them now, such as fire alarms, can really be a universal fit for residents. One attendee volunteered a personal take, on how much her autistic son struggles with the use of fire alarms, which can be distressing. The panel discussed alternative ways to alert residents to danger, including the use of hand-held devices, or an alarm which is the pre-recorded voice of a loved one. It was illuminating to consider that often safety measures which we take for granted are unsuitable for a large percentage of those who they are intended for. Elspeth Grant, an expert on PEEPs and a member of the IFE’s Women in Fire Networking Group, encouraged the use of appropriate alarms across the board, highlighting that more than 1 in 100 people in the UK are autistic.
Alongside the importance of building a safer future for social housing residents in the UK, the panel which covered Women in Fire safety revealed skewed demographics across those working in building safety. As Andrea White, Chair of the IFE’s Women in Fire group highlighted, only 0.05% of the IFE’s fellowship are women. There is a real crisis at the senior level of roles within both housing and fire safety specifically. When discussing how to mediate this effect, the panel talked about the importance of recruitment practices such as anonymised CV submissions to try to remedy the stark lack of representation at the top. However, getting to the root of the cause is likely to require dedication to the elevation of women in careers such as fire safety. As Andrea highlights, often the problem is not encouraging women into the industry as much as it is ensuring they reach for higher level positions and have the confidence to go up against men at the same level. Andrea is hosting a conference in February, aiming to elevate Women in Fire Engineering by actively supporting women with core skills such as confidence and assertiveness.
Considering this, Goodman Masson are also considering how we can make a meaningful impact on the opportunities afforded to women within the housing sector. Building Balance is a mentorship scheme established by the housing develop team, which looks to address gender imbalance across development roles. We are now looking to extend this across our entire housing operation, covering building safety, asset management, development, and tech.
With the wealth of challenges which lay ahead for the social housing sector, we hope to provide value where we are able and make incremental changes within the sector. As we look towards the New Year, we will be sharing more information about Building Balance, and how you can get involved. If you have any queries, do not hesitate to contact the housing team.
Erin Kelly | Asset Management & Compliance Consultant
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